Aurora Fall

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mikey
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Aurora Fall

#1 Post by mikey » Sat Feb 28, 2015 4:10 pm

Hello everyone,

I have finished my last and by far the biggest VN - Aurora Fall - a game I have been working on since late 2007, and that has undergone a lot of changes to get to the format that it is in right now.

I really hope you will have the time to read the below text, because it's really important to understanding the nature and the point of Aurora Fall. With that:

BACKGROUND:

Aurora Fall started as a regular visual novel that used the story as the main driving element, and at its peak the still very incomplete script had around 200.000 words, which, if I were to continue, would likely have grown to 300.000 or even considerably more. But then, around 2009/2010 the development stalled, mostly due to the fact that I was trying to find a way how to reel in the story that has grown to be more and more complex, because the underlying premise just lent itself to a billion little ideas and "don't-forget-to-add-/this/-aspect" bits.

It was without doubt epic in its scale, but not only have I lost at least 2 years trying to make it work, it also turned out that the more visuals I have been adding to keep up with the story, the more it felt like the story didn't belong into the game at all. The reason was that the thing I wanted to express with this work, which was "beauty" was not found in the story as such - its plot - but in the little moments surrounding it, moments that had very little to do with the story itself.

And so, more and more I was focusing on creating all those moments - like taking a walk, looking at pictures, driving in a car, or going shopping. They are all decisively not interesting, not exciting, and yet whenever I got to those moments in the story, that was when it felt "right", and slowly, but steadily, these moments have been pushing out the actual story and the vastness of potential that the premise had. It was then, about 2 years ago, that I decided to make the story not even secondary, but tertiary to those small moments and their nature as something that is beautiful in that it does not follow any purpose or have any agenda.

Fast forward to today, and the Aurora Fall that is released is exactly that kind of "non-VN". Maybe you'll find it amusingly slide-showy, maybe you won't have the patience to click through until the end, but much in the spirit of that game, that's alright. I understand that VN players see story as the main point of a VN, and I also understand that it is very difficult to re-tune yourself to a more "browsing mode" when you are playing something that looks just like a VN and is made with Ren'Py.

Still, if you do give it a go, I hope you'll find the same kind of peacefulness and content I did when it more and more started to take its final form. There is still that underlying premise of the aurora fall, and there still is a storyline, and there are alternative and main endings. It's just that they are not central to the nature of Aurora Fall, and will often be ignored, because they are just not relevant - hopefully this will not be a source of frustration for you.

TEAM:

First and foremost, I'd like to thank DaFool, who worked on the game in the first half, delivering all the graphics. We have had email exchanges of immeasurable length, and voice chats lasting record-breaking 5 hours, about the game. It's fair to say that without DaFool's understanding of Aurora Fall and what I wanted in this game, I would have probably not be able to make it at all. I have tried to honor all the graphics and set them in scenes utilizing every pose and variation, and then some.

It was needed, too. The sheer amount of photos I had to not just take over years and years, but also select, retouch, sequence and compose meant that I would use not just CGs, but also parts of them to make extra scenes, and create new variations of the source material to be able to fit into the game without me feeling I don't have enough art. I don't actually remember when it was, but DaFool has completed his work for AF years ago. 2011 or 2012, maybe. Delivering everything we decided on, and doing it reliably over the course of 4 years whenever I needed something extra - the bulk of the CGs was completed in the first year.

So a big thank you once again to my friend, DaFool, not just for doing this, but for then having the patience and not seeing the results of his work for years and years. Never once did he complain about this, and I can only hope it wasn't because he gave up on ever this project becoming reality. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he did, because of all the delays in the project that almost "killed" me.

Many thanks also to Jo'ogn for working on the sounds, and especially for adding sounds to such an early, disjointed and unplayable version of the game - in other words, thank you for believing in me. We wanted to have the entire game have only sounds, but the new direction sometimes demanded music, or silence.

With music, I have to thank Renesis, but he well probably not even remember anymore that he composed music for this. From the 12 tracks he made only 1 is used in Aurora Fall, but many others have been in other releases, so the work is not wasted.

Finally, thanks to both PyTom for programming our text effect, and to denzil for taking on the programming of the map. Even though it's entirely optional, I pretty much spent the better part of a year making paths, and retouching images for it, and without it it would not be Aurora Fall. Both PyTom and denzil I would often call on whenever there was some tiny technicality to solve, and they have been quick and helpful as they have always been.

And finally my thanks goes to Xyllirium for her wonderful editing work and for being able to get so well in tune with the game... it's hard to find words, so thank you for making AF so "pretty" in that sense.

MYSELF:

I really have nothing but praise for my team, but what about me, then? Well, I don't know how to evaluate myself, especially because it doesn't matter anymore - suffice it to say though, that I think that in its current form this game could have been done in say two, three years. Instead, it took me seven. Seven years, during which I've moved homes, changed jobs, traveled the world and had two children. Now they go to the kindergarten. And all that time, I had Aurora Fall in the back of my mind.

And it's only now that all the pressure is gone that I realize how much this has been weighing on me. Unsurprisingly the above mentioned rapid expansion of the project caused the main delay, after which even though I tried to refocus and basically laid out the plans for the final version, especially after our second child, time became a colossal issue. And so I could only work on it in tiny bits and pieces, which added another 2 years of development.

So in many ways, it was the classic thing of a project getting out of hand, but it was also combined with me not realizing how children will destroy my ability to have focused blocks of uninterrupted time. In sum, as explained above, the former cost me 2 years, the latter 2 more. I did take some months "off" during all this time, but often they were spent on releasing other games - in the time between the start of the Aurora Fall project and its completion, I have released 8 more visual novels (all between 2008 and 2011) and have produced, translated or been otherwise involved in releasing yet another 8 VNs.

I came to the point when I actually released all the VNs I ever wanted to make, thus making this one - Aurora Fall - be the last one. And so it is. Finally, it's done, and I can retire, and really, there is nothing sad about that - I am immensely happy that I was able to do the 22 visual novels that I consider "mine", that mean something to me, that express those aspects of my personality that I believe make me who I am.

Before, I would constantly get ideas and walk around with a note pad, scribbling them down. But as I released more and more of the VNs, those ideas became less and less, until I realized that I have in fact released 21 works, all of which contain a little bit of me, and in fact, with Aurora Fall being the 22nd, I felt no need, no compulsion, no desire to express anything else. This doesn't mean I don't have ideas for stories that occasionally come to me, but they are just fun, entertaining, interesting or emotional. None of them has since felt like something I /had to/ realize. None of them contains things that are truly dear to me.

And I think I'm very fortunate to arrive at such a place, because I know that many people don't. They will say that one needs to be in constant motion, and that as an artist you should always look to the next thing. And that's fine, but for me, I have found there is peace in having said and expressed those things that are closest to my heart, and I'm not upset that there seem to only be 22 of them. In fact, I'm really happy, because I have been able to experience a kind of artistic completion, something that maybe not everyone will be fortunate enough to feel. And if that's because I'm too simple of a man who really only has a handful of things that defined him so deeply that he felt like he needed to externalize them, so be it. I am truly happy, and that kind of happiness is equal for everyone.

You can download Aurora Fall on the ATP Original 22 page here:

https://atpprojects.wordpress.com/original22

This is a 3 GB download, Windows only for technical reasons for now.
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Samu-kun
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Re: Aurora Fall

#2 Post by Samu-kun » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:37 am

Sounds like it was quite an adventure man. =w= Sad times that I'm soooooo busy, but definitely a toast to the end of a long and winding journey.

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Re: Aurora Fall

#3 Post by mikey » Mon Mar 02, 2015 5:00 pm

Samu-kun wrote:Sounds like it was quite an adventure man. =w= Sad times that I'm soooooo busy, but definitely a toast to the end of a long and winding journey.
*raises glass* Thank you, sir. You may not know it, but I followed your progress updates of Homeward and was kind of using that energy that came across in those updates and tweets to help motivate myself. Don't know, you were on a roll with a personal project, and that kind of momentum spoke to me :)

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Re: Aurora Fall

#4 Post by ludeshka » Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:44 pm

So it's a game about..something? A collection of slice-of-life scenes, maybe?
I'm left wanting to know what's about (if it is about something) but maybe I'm missing the point (it wouldn't be the first time!)
I am still going to totally download this. I mean, now I've gotta know.

For now, the "making of" introductory post is really a fascinating read.

In a lot of ways, you're our auteur, you know. (And now you're apparently even going to do a classy Greta Garbo early retirement)
And 22 stories, man! You've got the right to be so proud of yourself.
Like we'd think it's sad you "only" had 22 stories to tell? How many writers have had 22 stories to tell? (Yeah, Stephen King for one, I know, get out) How many game developers? I guess it'd be fairly easy to program a couple dozen first person shooters, but stories, and stories that were so different...

What I want to say, as a complete rando who played your games is, thank you for sharing your stories with us, and thank you specifically for this one. Please, do come back if you realise you've got more to tell!

Thank you, and congratulations.

Still, I wish I could have known you when you just released Gakuen Redux to be able to ask "WHAT DID I JUST READ, OMG"
(Gakuen Redux was my first kinetic novel, and I don't think I'll ever forget the experience)

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Re: Aurora Fall

#5 Post by mayshing » Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:46 pm

That sounds like a labor of love, kudos to you on finishing it!
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Re: Aurora Fall

#6 Post by mikey » Thu Mar 05, 2015 11:39 am

@ ludeshka

Aurora Fall has a story, but it's not focused on it - that's the simplest way I can put it. I really wanted to stress this, because it's kind of the point of the entire VN - to show "beauty" as silent observation of things or events things without judgment.

And thanks for playing my games, I'm so often reminded of how really none of my opinions or achievements matters anymore - generations change, people move on - but my games still exist, objectively. Don't get me wrong, I was able to make a lot of friends by doing all those things, and being a part of the community, and that in turn enabled me to make VNs, but now that all is said and done (pretty much literally), all that remains is the works we have released. And I'm really happy to time and time again have this confirmed.

That said, I feel very firmly that I am finished with this kind of creative expression. But maybe that will give me more time to enjoy the works of others. Also, very happy I will have more time to do the podcast, which kind of gave me something new to do, so... I'm just very happy right now :)

@ mayshing:

Thank you, they are all labors of love, but this one was orders of magnitude bigger, more difficult and exhausting. I'm just happy it exists now.

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Re: Aurora Fall

#7 Post by Jo'ogn » Sun Mar 15, 2015 1:20 pm

@mikey - You did it! \^_^/

Now seeing that it has become a 3GB download and reading about your shifted focus towards "beauty", I feel that I should not have hold back, keeping the sound files reasonably small and that perhaps I should or could have reflected that intended "beauty" in addition through more intricated sounds at specific locations. But even back then when I worked on sounds AF was already HUGE.

I remember e.g. the train station where Adrian has a talk with one of the girls and I tried to place incoming and leaving trains in the background, which is tricky since the length of being in front of the station depends solely on how quickly the player/reader might skip through the text. It was an interesting challenge.
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Re: Aurora Fall

#8 Post by mikey » Mon Mar 16, 2015 10:49 am

Jo'ogn >> It's perfect the way it is, really. In fact, I think one of the key things about this project is that so many assets (drawings, sound, music, text effects) were designed, made and done five-six years before release (I did take more photos after that, but that was the only thing), and I so have grown to know every bit of them, and tried as best I could to utilize them to the maximum of their potential - so, to me anything made later would probably just feel out of place.

I have tried my best to time the effects with the progress bars and in-between splitscreens in those scenes which I either added on or edited down later on, trying to follow that flow you set when the game had much more text, so I hope I was able to make it work in a good way. In other words, please direct your praise to Jo'ogn, and your criticism to me.

Thank you so much for all your work - there was always a part of me that was afraid that if I never finished, that people's work would have been in vain, and it's such a relief to be able to give great people like you something that's finally complete.

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Re: Aurora Fall

#9 Post by sasquatchii » Thu Apr 02, 2015 7:03 pm

I finally finished it!! And I loved every second of it (even though I will probably go back and play it a few times to gain a better understanding of some of the things that happened). I am going to spoiler some of my thoughts because I don't want to ruin it for anyone that hasn't played it.
I love how you guys broke out of the "text inside of a box/frame" and just had it floating away over a period of time, right in the middle of things. I don't know if this was intentional, but it felt like a stream of consciousness and that, to me, was fascinating. I felt like I had crawled inside of someone else's head for a little while :)

I also LOVED the photo editing, and the way you combined photography & art. It was very skillful, and to me I did not really even register or think about it until later, so well done!

And oh my, the photography!! I feel like there were hundreds if not thousands of different images to see throughout the story. That was a first for me out of all the VN's I've played. I think that level of variety really helped to build out the world/setting, and I couldn't wait to see more of it!
There is a lot more that i liked but I do not want to come off as "critique-y" since I know Mikey is not looking for it and did not ask for it! But awesome job overall, I am sad that Mikey is no longer going to make any more VN's, but also secretly/selfishly happy that he will be working on the Buzz podcast with me! :)
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Re: Aurora Fall

#10 Post by denzil » Fri Apr 03, 2015 2:31 am

sasquatchii wrote:
I love how you guys broke out of the "text inside of a box/frame" and just had it floating away over a period of time, right in the middle of things. I don't know if this was intentional, but it felt like a stream of consciousness and that, to me, was fascinating. I felt like I had crawled inside of someone else's head for a little while :)
Yeah, this is quite interesting way to show the story. He used it before in Ori, Ochi, Onoe, if I remember correctly. But I really liked how he told the story just using the pictures.
sasquatchii wrote:There is a lot more that i liked but I do not want to come off as "critique-y" since I know Mikey is not looking for it and did not ask for it! But awesome job overall, I am sad that Mikey is no longer going to make any more VN's, but also secretly/selfishly happy that he will be working on the Buzz podcast with me! :)
Yeah, I loved most of his VNs and wish he would make more. But Buzz is pretty interesting too, so at least in some way he stays in the community. (: Some guide on how to make VN from him could be interesting too, but I guess you will cover all the topics in Buzz anyway. ;-)
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Re: Aurora Fall

#11 Post by mikey » Sun Apr 05, 2015 9:21 am

@Sasquatchii & denzil: Well, you guys are too kind, thanks.
As far as the disappearing text goes, that was a first ever use. Ori Ochi Onoe had the text centered in the middle of the screen, as did Time's Tear and more or less also Anthridercynantide and Umeda Sky, but the disappearing effect was only for Aurora Fall. The idea was to have a sense of continuity to the conversation or thoughts, so I'm glad it worked :)
And yeah, AF really is a story that is told mostly through pictures, especially in the second part - and it has indeed thousands of photos.

The most complicated was the city map, especially because it had so many locations that I had to take pictures of:
a.) in the summer
b.) on weekends (because fulltime job)
c.) on a sunny and dry day
d.) when the sun was high (around 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.)

These (cumulative) restrictions meant I had to shoot the locations over the course of several summers because it wasn't physically possible to do it in one year. Also, I have run into problems when the places were crowded, or when some unsightly feature happened to be present (building renovations). I had to literally "come back next year".

The locations in different seasons of the year were comparably easy, although I did run into difficulties with the snowy places, because I didn't just want a little snow, I wanted the trees to be snowy, too, and that snow often holds for only a few days, so winter shots I had to really time right and adjust my schedules around the weather.

But that isn't a complaint or me trying to say how difficult I have had it. It's just the specifics of a project of this scale with this many pictures.

So... thank you for playing! :)

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